Louis Brandeis

The first Jewish Supreme Court Justice.


Louis Dembitz Brandeis was born in 1856 in Louisville, Kentucky to a family of Jewish immigrants from Prague. Brandeis went to high school in Louisville, and graduated at age 14.

His family returned to Europe for a few years, and he joined them, traveling, and eventually attending university at the Realgymnasium Annenschule in Dresden. Following college, Brandeis came back to the United States and enrolled at Harvard Law School, where he graduated at the top of his class in 1877.

After a short stint as a lawyer in St. Louis, Brandeis returned to Massachusetts and founded a law firm with a classmate from Harvard, Samuel D. Warren. The firm was successful, and Brandeis began to take an active role in progressive causes such as public regulation of utilities, savings bank life insurance, and anti-monopoly legislation.

Brandeis Brief

In 1908 Brandeis argued a case in front of the Supreme Court (Muller v. Oregon) in which he presented what came to be known as the Brandeis Brief. The Brandeis Brief was revolutionary because it did not rely on pure legal theory, but also on analysis of sociological information that examined the impact of long working hours on women.

The Brandeis Brief became the model for future Supreme Court presentations in cases affecting the health and welfare of individuals.

Zionist Activism

Brandeis’s desire to help Eastern European Jewry find a safe haven in Palestine was spurred by his contact in 1910 with Russian immigrant garment workers, whom he met while mediating a strike. He saw in these Jews a democratic spirit and idealism he had not expected.

Two years later Brandeis became actively involved in Zionist causes through his friendship with Jacob de Haas, editor of a Boston Jewish weekly and a follower of Theodore Herzl. In 1913, Brandeis agreed to chair a Zionist meeting in Boston, and a year later he was unanimously elected to be the head of the Provisional Executive Committee for Zionist Affairs. From 1914-1918 Brandeis was effectively the head of American Zionism.

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Tamar Fox is an associate editor at MyJewishLearning.com. She has an MFA in fiction writing from Vanderbilt University, and a BA from the University of Iowa. She has worked as the editor of the religion blog at Jewcy.com, and is on the Editorial Board at The Jew and the Carrot. She spent a summer as a fellow at Yeshivat Hadar, and was a Senior Apprentice Artist for four years at Gallery 37 in Chicago.

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